Perriand / Japan

Charlotte Perriand, with support from Sori Yanagi and Junzo Sakakura, was invited by the Japanese Ministry of Commerce and Industry/Department of Trade Promotion to serve as an advisor to help increase furniture exports for Japan. Perriand had met Sakakura while they were both working at Le Corbusier’s studio. Junzo worked with Le Corbusier in Paris from 1931 to 1936.

On June 15, 1940 Perriand boarded a cruiseliner headed to Japan. This was one day after the nazis had captured Paris. She arrived in Japan on August 21, 1940.

Image: Perriand with back to camera and Sori Yanagi (center), via Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

She stayed at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel. Then she traveled throughout Japan with Sori Yanagi and visited Mingei craftspeople around the county.

Source: MFA Boston

Perriand (middle) with Sakakura (left) with two Japanese craftsmen, 1941

Image: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod 

In 1941, after seven moths of traveling through Japan, Perriand and Sakakura produced an exhibition held at the Takashimaya department stores in Tokyo and Kyoto. They called it “Tradition, Selection, Creation.” It showcased her findings, recommendations and a number of designs she created.
Image: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

Image: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

A Perriand chair designed for the exhibition.

Image: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

Perriand Low chair designed in 1940; manufactured 1946

Source: MoMA

A catalog of the Takashimaya exhibition was produced by Perriand and Sakakura. Choix Tradition Création. Au contact avec l'art japonais. Tokyo, Ed. Koyama-shoten. It documented the 1941 exhibition and included photos by Perriand.

Source: AuctionLab

The catalog included this diagram, showing a 1937 chair by Ubunji Kidokoro, the Alvar Aalto chair it was based off of, and a bamboo chair Perriand designed. The Kidokoro chair was being criticized by Perriand for not taking full advantage of the resiliency of the bamboo.

Source: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

Alvar Aalto Model 31 (1931-35)

Source: SFMoma

Chair by Ubunji Kidokoro (1937)

The Kidokoro chair is often misattributed to Charlotte Perriand, even though it was actually used by her to illustrate a design flaw. It was also made a few years before Perriand was even in Japan. In 2016, a pair sold for $10K at Monthly Modern Auction. In 2003, a single chair was up for sale at Phillips, with an estimate of $30k-$40k. They had a pretty convincing description with a number of references. You can read it here. Unfortunately, it's bogus. Things in the auction world were pretty loose in the early 2000s. These days I don't think these would get into a Phillips sale as Perriand.

Some months back, the owner of Local Strange, a Mid-Century shop in San Francisco, found a pair of the Kidokoro chairs at an estate of a local architect. Local Strange was not claiming the chairs were designed by Perriand. 

Source: Local Strange

The chairs have a 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition label. That fits with the 1937 design date and doesn't work out for anything to do with Perriand because she hadn't even been to Japan yet.

Perriand lounge shown at Takashimaya, with Seccho-made straw cushions.

Image: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

A Mingei-influenced Perriand version of the 1928 tubular steel chaise lounge designed by her, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret was also on display at Takashimaya. This design is symbolic of the criticism many Japanese designers expressed about the exhibition. They said there was a typical western focus on bamboo. Isamu Kenmochi was disappointed that she did not explore more modern Japanese materials and production methods. It was clear that Perriand was heavily influenced by the Mingei. Although two of the main promoters of Mingei, Soetsu Yanagi and Shoji Hamada, were proud of the influence the Mingei crafts had on her, they were also critical on her what seemed liked "uneducated" selection of crafts and her "enchantment" with bamboo. Seems like a tough crowd, but international diplomacy was falling apart on a world scale. Japan was about to enter the war and therefore Perriand was forced to leave. Due to the naval blockade, she was forced to live out the rest of WWII in Vietnam. She was not able to return to France until 1946.

Source: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod

She returned to Japan in 1953 and here she is in 1954.

She teamed up with Sakakura again and mounted another exhibition at the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo.

Synthesis of the Arts at Takashimaya, 1954. Perriand said her cloud shelving was inspired by shelves she saw in a 17th century palace in Kyoto.

Source: Charlotte Perriand: An Art of Living: Mary McLeod